Publications

  • Will They Stay or Will They Go: Predicting Subsidized Housing Opt-outs

    Over the past 30 years, the share of renters in the United States spending over 30% of their income on rent, and thereby qualifying as rent burdened, has increased. This trend has particularly affected low-income families. At the same time, owners of thousands of privately owned, publicly subsidized rental housing units have left, or “opted out,” of subsidy programs across the country. The efforts of local governments to preserve these properties as affordable housing are handicapped by a lack of understanding of the underlying factors that drive owners’ decisions to opt out. This paper employs a unique dataset on subsidized properties in New York City and uses hazard models to explore why property owners in the Mitchell-Lama program, a New York State affordable housing program, choose to opt out. Our results suggest that properties located in neighborhoods with high property value growth, those with for-profit owners, and those past the affordability restrictions on all subsidies, are more likely to opt out. While our study focuses on Mitchell-Lama properties, the findings have broader implications for properties around the country that receive supply-side rental subsidies.

  • Urban Land-Use Regulation: Are Homeowners Overtaking the Growth Machine?

    The leading theory about urban land-use regulation argues that city zoning officials are full partners in the business and real estate elite’s “growth machine.” Suburban land-use officials, in contrast, are thought to cater to the interests of the majority of their electorate— “homevoters.” A unique database regarding over 200,000 lots that the New York City Planning Commission considered for rezoning between 2002 and 2009 allows us to test various hypotheses suggested by these competing theories of land-use regulation. This analysis reveals that homevoters are more powerful in urban politics than scholars, policymakers, and judges have assumed.

  • Mortgage Foreclosures and the Shifting Context of Crime in Micro-Neighborhoods

    In the wake of the housing crisis there is growing concern that increased mortgage foreclosures may lead to physical deterioration of buildings and increased vacancy rates in neighborhoods, undermining neighborhood social controls, and causing increases in local crime. While some recent research suggests that increased mortgage foreclosures in micro-neighborhoods cause modest increases in crime (Ellen, Lacoe, and Sharygin, 2013; Cui, 2010), this paper considers whether foreclosures lead to increased crime on a block, as well as the mechanisms through which foreclosures affect neighborhood crime. To shed light on mechanisms, we investigate whether and how foreclosures shift the location and type of criminal activity by changing the relative attractiveness to potential offenders of one location versus another. For instance, the presence of a vacant, foreclosed building may make it more likely that a drug dealer will sell drugs in a building rather than on the street. As a result, crime occurring inside residences (and in vacant buildings in particular) and on the street may increase by different magnitudes. In addition, we consider whether foreclosures affect resident reports of disorder. Using richly detailed foreclosure, 311, and crime data geo-coded to the blockface (a street segment in-between the two closest cross-streets), we estimate the impact of foreclosures on the location of crime within blockfaces. This research focuses on Chicago, Illinois. Like many areas of the country, housing prices in Chicago reached a peak in 2006, and declined through 2011. In September 2011, 8.7 percent of the mortgages in the Chicago metropolitan area were in foreclosure, giving Chicago the 11th highest foreclosure rate among the 100 largest metropolitan areas in the country. Recent media reports claim that foreclosed and abandoned buildings in Chicago attract criminal activity including gang activity, drug use, and burglaries, in addition to graffiti, and theft of copper pipes and radiators (Knight and O’Shea, 2011). This study takes an empirical look at how foreclosures have changed patterns of crime in Chicago.

  • Do Housing Choice Voucher Holders Live Near Good Schools?

    The Housing Choice Voucher program was created, in part, to help low-income households reach a broader range of neighborhoods and schools. This study explores whether low-income households use the flexibility provided by vouchers to reach neighborhoods with high performing schools. "Do Housing Choice Voucher holders live near good schools?" was published in the Journal of Housing Economics in March 2014.

  • Why It’s So Hard to Storm-Proof an Apartment Building

    If Superstorm Sandy taught us anything, it's that we need housing that can withstand natural disasters. But resiliency efforts often focus on detached, single-family houses and ignore larger multifamily dwellings. There are a huge number of physical, financial, and political obstacles to storm-proof apartment buildings.

  • Do Federally Assisted Households Have Access to High Performing Schools?

    This study describes the elementary schools closest to families receiving four different forms of housing assistance, and finds that families in Project-based Section 8 developments and Public Housing and recipients of Housing Choice Vouchers tend to live near schools with lower test scores than the schools near the typical poor household. Only families in Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) housing have access to schools that are slightly better than the schools available to other poor families.  The report also finds that, despite the flexibility provided by vouchers, families with Housing Choice Vouchers, on average, live near lower performing schools than families in Project-based Section 8 or LIHTC developments. The report provides results for the 100 largest metropolitan areas, which show that assisted households tend to live near relatively higher performing schools in metropolitan areas with certain characteristics, including smaller size and less racial segregation. The analysis relies on a variety of different large data sources that have been brought together for the first time, including a national file of subsidized housing tenants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), HUD’s publicly available LIHTC dataset, and data from the U.S. Department of Education on proficiency rates in math and English and additional school characteristics. In addition to the report below, the complete findings may be found in Appendix A (state-by-state tables), Appendix B (metropolitan area tables), Appendix C (national distributions of family units by school performance), and Appendix D (top 100 MSAs – percentile rankings for each housing program).

  • Do Foreclosures Cause Crime?

    The mortgage foreclosure crisis has generated increasing concerns about the effects of foreclosed properties on their surrounding neighborhoods, and on criminal activity in particular. Using a unique dataset of point-specific longitudinal crime and foreclosure data from New York City, this paper explores whether foreclosed properties affect criminal activity on the surrounding blockface – an individual street segment including properties on both sides of the street. The researchers report that foreclosures on a blockface lead to additional violent crimes and public order crimes, and these effects are largest when foreclosure activity is measured by the number of bank-owned properties on a blockface.

  • American Murder Mystery Revisited: Do Housing Voucher Households Cause Crime?

    Critics of Housing Choice Vouchers have alleged that an increased presence of voucher holders leads to increased crime in some neighborhoods. Systematically and empirically studying the question for the first time, this paper finds that while neighborhoods with a higher proportion of voucher holding residents tend to see higher crime rates, there was not a causal relationship. The research reveals that other neighborhood characteristics are much more significant in determining crime. Instead, it appears that voucher holders tend to move in after a neighborhood experiences a rise in crime, suggesting that the intended role of vouchers to enhance holders’ neighborhood choice may be limited.

  • Crime and Community Development

    Community development has traditionally focused on investments in housing, commercial revitalization, and physical improvements. Although all three are clearly critical to communities, the field has largely ignored (or paid too little attention to) one of the key factors that shape the quality of the everyday life: public safety.

  • Comment on ‘Are the Government-Sponsored Enterprises (GSEs) Justified?’

    In “Are the Government-Sponsored Enterprises (GSEs) Justified?” the authors conclude that the benefits delivered by the GSEs (as structured prior to conservatorship) are minimal and do not exceed their costs. While many of the arguments made in the article have merit and raise serious questions about the structure of the GSEs prior to 2008, the article overlooks several important benefits and costs. More significantly, no one is arguing for a return of the GSEs as they were structured prior to conservatorship. Rather than debate the merits of a model that has already been rejected by policymakers, we argue that the far more important question is what the housing finance market should look like in the future.